UNA-USA Youth Leader
1. Why is the United Nations important to the world?
Every day, the UN and its specialized agencies work to improve people’s lives around the world. The World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian agency, reaches an average of 90 million people in 80 countries every year, including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. More than 50 million refugees fleeing persecution, violence and war have received aid from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 1951, in a continuing effort to aid some of the world’s most vulnerable people. These are just two examples of the many ways that the UN and its specialized agencies help to save and improve lives throughout the world.
2. How do the UN and its work affect your work or life?
Serving as the first-ever U.S. Youth Observer at the UN has been an unprecedented opportunity to engage youth in diplomacy and development. A significant part of my position involves speaking to young people about how they can become more engaged in the work of the UN, as well as how they can organize grassroots initiatives in their own communities. One of the most rewarding aspects of this role is the opportunity to see the variety of ways in which students are being inspired to take initiative. Most recently, I received a note from a student in Queens, New York asking me to come speak to her class about how to start a Model UN club because she read that I had started one at my high school. In addition to working with U.S. youth, I also work closely with the other 35 UN Youth Delegates to ensure that youth voices and priorities, such as employment and education, are better incorporated into the decision-making process of the UN.
3. Why should Americans care about the UN’s work?
Only by international cooperation can we meet our shared development goals, which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education. The UN plays a pivotal role in this regard as the world’s most effective voice for international cooperation on behalf of these goals. The UN remains vital to enhancing American interests; and as a key member of the UN, the U.S. helps to resolve some of the great challenges around the world.
4. In your opinion, what has been the UN’s best moment to date?
In September 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the most important meeting on polio eradication of the past 20 years. In a display of solidarity, heads of state stood alongside donor government officials and new donors from the public and private sectors to commit to what is needed to eradicate the disease forever. Polio has been eliminated from all but three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan – as a result of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments and spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Thanks to the Initiative nearly 5 million children are walking who would otherwise have been paralyzed by polio. A disease that once crippled children in 125 countries is on the verge of being eradicated. A polio-free world will lay the foundation for a better public health system that provides vital health services for children in the poorest and most inaccessible places.
5. What do you think is the most exciting opportunity for the UN going forward?
The appointment of the Secretary-General’s first-ever Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, is one of the most exciting opportunities for the UN going forward. In his Five-Year Action Agenda, the Secretary-General identified “Working with and for Women and Young People” as one of his top priorities, and in that context, the Envoy on Youth will address the priorities of the largest generation of youth the world has ever known. The majority (almost 85%) of the world’s youth lives in developing countries, and youth are vital partners for achieving our shared development goals. Alhendawi brings to the position extensive experience working on youth issues at the local, regional, and international levels. He has also demonstrated his commitment to working with the UN Youth Delegate program by meeting with many of the UN Youth Delegates in New York. As part of his voluntary work, Alhendawi was among the co-founders of the All Jordan Youth Commission. He also co-founded and headed the Youth for Democracy Network at the Jordanian Commission for Democratic Culture, in addition to co-founding the International Youth Council in New York.
6. What is the most effective element of UNA-USA’s work?
In April, I had the opportunity to speak at the Global Classrooms International Middle School Model UN Conference, and I was so impressed by the experiences of the students at the conference. Young people of all walks of life participate in these conferences to experience first-hand the decision-making processes and diplomatic work at the United Nations. Through diplomacy and negotiation, Model UN students seek ways that the world community can deal with complex global challenges such as the environment, economic development, conflict resolution, and human rights. As the largest Model UN network in the world, Global Classrooms annually engages more than 25,000 students and teachers at Model UN conferences and in classroom. This represents a huge investment in engaging youth in the work of the UN.